By Dr. Mark A. McCleary, October 20, 2015: Recently, the Liberty Seventh-day Adventist Church commissioned a committee to research the issue of preparing, serving, eating or allowing meat products on church property. As the pastor, I thought it not robbery to do my own research of this topic. I am not a member of the committee, but felt I wanted to get a head start and then provide my view as a position paper on the topic. Perhaps these insights can be used to guide, without goading, committee members and other Liberty members as they seek a Biblical and balanced policy concerning meat eating on their church’s properties.
Background to the Issue
The subject of meat has been a controversial issue in the SDA Church because of its promotion of a health message that is grounded in E. G. White’s counsel to the church-at-large in books such as The Ministry of Healing and Counsels on Diet and Foods. These works promote a diet void of any meat in an attempt to mirror the original diet of Adam in the pre-Fall garden or the New Earth, where there will be no killing of animals (Isa.11).
This controversy predates the Millerites or Seventh-day Adventists, in that it was evident in apostolic days. “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Cor. 8:13, KJV; note: all quoted texts are taken from the KJV). “For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence” (Rom. 14:20). These two verses indicate a subject that had explosive and divisive impact on God’s people.
Regardless of any tensions engendered by such a discussion, Paul warns against being preoccupied with the “meat” issue when he states, “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein” (Heb. 13:9). His reasoning is that meat (original or provisional) is not a saving issue and does not establish the believer’s heart with God (1 Cor.8:8) and should not be considered a Kingdom priority (Rom. 14:17). Paul amplifies this latter point when he asserts that meat eating is not a primary ministry cause or judgment issue (Rom. 14:20; Col. 2:16).
“Meat” in the Bible
The term “meat” has several connotations in the Bible. Without traveling a circuitous linguistic route concerning its etymology, “meat” means “food,” or that which man and animals eat for health, strength, and taste (Gen. 2:8; 3:5; 27:5; Deut. 2:6; Matt. 9:10; Acts 27:33; Rom. 14:17; 1 Tim. 4:3). Meat also refers to herbal food such as green plants (Gen. 1:29, 30; 2:4; 9:3). The food of which the Bible speaks is or was a living thing (Gen. 9:3). Fruits and their tree host are included in this botanical family (Gen. 1:29; 2:4; Eze. 47:12). The honey that comes from the nectar of plants is also made to eat for food, according to the Bible (Matt. 3:4). Some other forms of food that the Bible calls meats are “grains” and their flour derivatives (i.e., corn, wheat, barley; Mal. 3:10; Num. 28:13).
The Bible also includes animals as meat or food. Some of those mentioned are lamb (Ex. 29:41; Num. 28:13), venison or deer (Gen. 27:5), and locust (Matt. 3:4). It should be understood that animal products were permitted after the Flood (Gen. 9:3). Herbs and fruits were man’s original pre-Fall diet (Gen. 1:31). The original diet was prescribed for man and animals (Gen. 1:29, 30), and will be reinstated in the new earth (Eze. 47:12).
Whether the context is pre- or post-fall, the fundamental purpose of “meat” is three-fold: life promoting (Gen. 3:22; 45:23), nourishment (Acts 27:33), and to satisfy hunger (Matt. 25:35). Another benefit of food is its tastefulness (Gen. 27:4; Prov. 23:6). Regardless of the dish, we all want our food prepared as tasty as possible. As Mary Poppins stated, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”
The Bible contains some clear proscription regarding “meat.” A list of clean and unclean meats is provided in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. Many pro-New Testament proponents have critiqued these codes as moribund because they are a part of the Mosaic Law that they believe was abrogated by Jesus’ death (Col. 2:14-17; Eph. 2:13-16). However, health and food eating are not matters of Old or New Testaments discourses alone, but warp and woof of human biological and physiological conditions and experience. The three restrictions the Bible gives concerning meat (animal) eating are: without blood, without association to idolatry, and not having died of itself or disease (Gen. 9:3; Acts 15:29).
In spite of these proscriptions and restrictions, there can be no doubt that God has permitted the “proper” use of animal products for food consumption. The Bible states that all meat, including animals, has been provided by God—manna (Ps. 78:25); quail (Ps. 104:27); all “meat” (Ps. 111:5; 145:15). The apostle Paul, when speaking about last day deceptions, mentions the meat issue as a clue to detect error when he declares, “Forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:3-5).
An important question to consider is, how did Jesus relate to meat in general and animal food in particular? After He healed Jairus’ daughter, He commanded that she be given “something” to eat (Luke 8:55). In feeding the 5,000, He used bread (grain) and fish (animal) provided by a little boy’s donated lunch (Luke 9:16). After using the same menu to feed the 4,000, He commanded that the surplus be saved and not wasted (Matt. 15:37). Obviously, Jesus had a balanced and practical respect for food consumption and management that included animal products.
Meat and Church Policy
The real issue of this study focuses on “meat” on the church’s premises—whether to sanction or prohibit meat eating (animal) by individuals or the corporate body. The closest the Bible comes to this issue is its references to the sanctuary environs. Meat (meal or grain) offerings were a regular part of the burnt sacrifice (Ex. 40:29). They were used to complete the oblation requirements for certain liturgical ceremonies (Lev. 2:9). In this post-Fallen era, God seems to have a provisional and balanced view concerning meat as food. Fundamental food stuffs for many sanctuary rituals were animals such as lamb (Ex. 29:41). In certain instances, both grain and animal items were used and consumed. In fact, the remnants of each were used to provide food for the priests and their families (Num. 28:13; Lev. 2:10).
The Bible presents its readers with sufficient revelation about this planet’s origin, people, and their divinely ordained relationship to “meat.” Both the original and the redeemed state of the human experience exclude anything that must be killed or dies of itself as a food product. However, present discussions concern the issue of “meat” and developing a church policy regarding permitting or proscribing its preparation or its serving on church property by members or those allowed to rent or use church facilities.
According to the above research, God allowed mankind to add animal products to the original diet on a provisional basis. He included several clear guidelines regarding the believer’s consumption of such food items. They included only clean meats (Lev. 11 and Deut. 14). The guidelines included: no blood; not having been offered to idols or demons; and not having died of itself (i.e., disease or trauma; Gen. 9:3; Acts 15:29).
The Bible reveals animal “meat” as an essential liturgical component for facilitating atonement during sanctuary services. During the New Testament dispensation, there is no earthly tabernacle with restrictions as to who or what is allowed in order to fulfill the various ceremony requirements, except those continued by the Jewish economy until the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, and not highlighted in the New Testament.
The primary motivation for animal “meat” controversies among Adventist congregations is the belief that such products would militate against the church’s health message of a diet void of such products. Such a position varies in intensity from church to church and region to region. The focus seems to be on animal products (i.e., chicken, beef, and fish) with little protestation concerning their derivatives or other less pre-Fall era menu items. These observations have been bones of contention for some congregations that struggle with applying a Biblical provisional model while adhering to a Spirit of Prophecy prohibition model.
The issue of “meat,” specifically animal products, is a sticky but solvable one for churches desiring a balanced and Biblically based guideline. First, any guideline must respect the irrevocable nature of free choice. Choices may be made by immature (weak) or mature (strong) persons. That is to say, choice must be safeguarded in the development of any guideline. Second, a church must choose which source of faith and practice it is going to follow and implement, particularly when there is another “competing” source that “conflicts” with data from the other. For Seventh-day Adventists, a Protestant body of Christian believers, the Bible is professed as their primary determinant for Christian faith and practice (sola scriptura). They promote it as the source for belief and guiding behavior and sufficient examples of right living for emulating (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:14-17).
Third, Seventh-day Adventists must balance their “lesser light” gift of the Spirit of Prophecy data concerning cuisine with that of its primary faith and practice source, the Bible. In other words, any food policy they develop should not be derived from the lesser light alone, in spite of its primary Biblical source for faith and practice. In such cases, the Bible stops being the sole or primary guide for determining belief and behavior and becomes a secondary one at best. Fourth, in any effort to harmonize these two sources, the Bible’s pre-Fall/Redemptive ideals and the Spirit of Prophecy’s “vegetarianism” models can be applied so that individual freedom of choice, rooted in Biblical post-Fall guidelines on clean meat preparation and consumption, is adhered to if policy-makers work according to faith (2 Cor. 5:7; Rom. 10:17; 14:22, 23) and not fear and moral enforcement (1 John 4:18).
The practice, by too many, of pitting the Bible against the Spirit of Prophecy on this issue is not congruent with our profession of “the Bible as our sole source for determining faith and practice.” Such practice has wrought division rather than unity and freedom among many Seventh-day Adventist congregations. The Spirit of Prophecy faction, which might be viewed as orthodox and conservative (no animal meat ever) disagrees with the Bible faction, which might be seen as liberals who seek a balance between individual choice and Biblical revelation. Instead of making this a Catch-22 for either side, why not develop a moderate solution that factors the key variables of individual freedom, Biblical revelation, and education of the principles for good health without coercion or condemnation?
Holistic vegetarianism does not have to wait until the apocalyptic future paradise era. A congregation can develop and implement a curriculum that teaches the full dimensions of its benefits in order to win converts by conviction rather than legislation. This could be done while allowing congregants or others to prepare and serve clean meats in and on its precincts. Thus systematic enlightenment, hopefully, would increase individual desire to eat more healthfully at church and at home. This approach fosters sound application of the Bible’s revelation of this topic and encourages churches to institutionally and structurally foster greater health consciousness without stepping on an individual’s freedom of choice in the name of God or morality.
This reinforces the truth that neither the little horn nor the Seventh-day Adventist church has the right to infringe on anyone’s freedom of choice by legislating an issue the Bible states is not a moral or destiny determinant as important as heart and head transformation which is rooted in God’s work of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.
Dr. Mark A. McCleary began serving the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1974 in Kansas City, Missouri. His Allegheny East Conference career includes the First Church of Montclair, New Jersey; Southwest Philadelphia Church; The First Church of Washington, DC; and presently Liberty Church in Windsor Mill, Maryland (since January, 2014).
The full article as original posted on Adventist Today